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Main Street Transformer Vault Blows Open, Sends Smoke Into Buildings

The underground fire likely “put itself out,” but it was the cause of at least some power outages in the area and carbon monoxide in at least one building, fire officials said, as they waited for PSE&G to arrive late Tuesday morning.

A transformer vault on Main Street near Center Avenue blew open late Tuesday morning, pushing black smoke out of a manhole cover, some of which made its way into surrounding buildings and caused an unknown number of power outages in the area, officials said.

The incident occurred just after 11 a.m. in front of at 222 Main St., where Chief Keith Sabatino remained at the scene after the smoke had apparently stopped.

“There’s live wires that go all underneath the street,” Sabatino said. “[The electrical vault in the street] blew and popped up, and black smoke came out and fed into the surrounding buildings.”

Several of the buildings in the immediate vicinity were without power, Sabatino said, adding that firefighters were “just in a waiting for PSE&G mode.”

“We don’t go into electrical vaults; it’s a hazard,” he said.

Sabatino explained that smoke resulting from underground transformer fires “finds pipes,” thereby getting into nearby buildings.

“It’ll find the pipe chase and follow it in,” Sabatino said. “The last time this happened, we had so much carbon monoxide build up inside the buildings because it was burning hard.”

But Tuesday morning’s incident wasn’t nearly as severe, according to Sabatino.

“We don’t think it’s burning; we think it put itself out,” he said shortly after firefighters arrived at the scene. “We have nothing constant going into any of the buildings.”

Sabatino added that carbon monoxide was detected in one building, but that the fire department was venting it, and nobody was injured.

PSE&G said in an email to Patch that about 1,200 customers in the area of Fletcher Avenue in Fort Lee lost service Tuesday morning resulting from a “failure on a 13,000-volt circuit.” 

The outage occurred at 10:55 a.m., and all customers had service restored about 45 minutes later, according to the company.

But the two incidents may not have been related.

A PSE&G spokeswoman also told NorthJersey.com that crews inspected the manhole but found "no smoke condition," and that while there was a power outage caused by an underground cable connector overheating, there was not an explosion or smoke.

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